Mr. Hynes asbestos inquiry report is still awaited, though promised for June, and meanwhile LBWF continues to fight off awkward questioning

In various statements made from the end of 2022 onwards, LBWF Director of Governance and Law, Mark Hynes, reiterated that he aimed to complete the report of his asbestos investigation by June 2023.

In May 2023, the Leader, Cllr. Grace Williams, backed him up, telling councillors ‘we are expecting the final report imminently’, and elaborating: ‘the Monitoring Officer anticipates [it] will be available no later than June this year’.

June has come and gone, but without any sign of the report, or any explanation as to why it is delayed.

When asked, Mr. Hynes comments only: ‘I appreciate your continued patience on this matter. I hope to have finalised the report shortly’.

One theory going the rounds is that, for reasons which are not hard to guess, LBWF is stalling until Chief Executive Martin Esom leaves the council’s employment.

In this context it is seen as significant that Mr. Esom’s departure suddenly has been brought forward, again without explanation, from the end of this year to the end of this month, July.

However, Mr. Hynes insists: ‘I…can assure you that Mr Esom’s retirement date is an entirely separate matter and is not relevant to my investigation’.

Meanwhile, LBWF continues to block me from asking related questions. In several cases, Mr. Hynes has refused to release material requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FIA) on the basis that ‘it is not in the public interest for information which forms part of the investigation to be put into the public domain…without the surrounding contextual information which the investigation report will provide’, a classic example of LBWF trying to control the narrative.

Elsewhere, the tactic has been straightforward obstruction. LBWF took 112 days to answer one of my Freedom of Information Act requests, and only coughed up then because the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) forced it to. 

Finally, there’s the saga of my Subject Access Request (SAR) of 20 February 2023, which sought data that was held about me in relation to asbestos between 1 September 2022 and 23 December 2022, roughly the time when Mr. Hynes was finalising plans for his inquiry, and LBWF was threatening me with its Policy on Dealing with Unreasonable Behaviour.

LBWF promises that SARs requests will be answered within a calendar month, ‘in accordance with the Data Protection Act’.

The ICO guidance to local authorities is that: 

‘You must comply with a SAR without undue delay and at the latest within one month of receiving the request. You can extend the time to respond by a further two months if the request is complex or you have received a number of requests from the individual’.

Yet in this case, LBWF simply acknowledged my request one day after I submitted it, and then remained completely silent. 

Finally, on 9 June 2023, after a letter of complaint, LBWF deigned to make contact, telling me that though I had been promised a reply by 20 March 2023, ‘Regrettably, we have not been able to provide a response by that date [sic] and are therefore writing to advise you that we need to extend the deadline to 23 June 2023’.

Subsequently, Mr Hynes has claimed that the delay stemmed from my request being both ‘incorrectly triaged’ by his service, and complex.  However, some accidentally released evidence suggests that between 20 February and 9 June 2023, LBWF had just sat on its hands.

In the last few days, progress of sorts has occurred, with Mr Hynes releasing to me copies of 17 e-mails that I had sent to LBWF…though none of the latter’s replies or associated content.

What’s amusing is that, despite LBWF being obsessed with spin, in cases like this, it always ends up by making itself look shifty.

Of course, whether it actually is shifty remains for the reader to decide.

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